MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Nothing was going right for Minnesota until coach Mike Tice tried a little negative reinforcement in the locker room.
Prodded by Tice’s stern halftime speech, the Vikings came back from a 17-0 deficit in the third quarter to beat Green Bay 23-20 on Sunday.
Paul Edinger kicked a franchise-record 56-yard field goal as time ran out, lifting momentum-starved Minnesota past the Packers.
Such is life in the NFC North, where Minnesota is still only one game out of first place despite an awful start to the season—and even Green Bay (1-5) remains in the race.
After losing their last two games by a combined 58-13 score and allegations of sexual misconduct by several players on a boat party emerging earlier this month, the Vikings appeared headed for another ugly defeat after a flawless first half by Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
But Culpepper, who went 23-for-31 for 280 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, came to life—and Edinger came through with his third field goal of the game, the longest of his career.
“I took off running after it, like I was going to catch it or something,” Edinger said. “I can’t even describe it. It’s a great feeling. I wish you could experience it.”
By his estimation, Tice used a negative tone at the half for the first time in two years. He was pleased by what he saw.
“I thought they practiced with better emotion all week,” Tice said. “I thought they studied better, harder, and I thought they heeded my warning and stayed home and off the streets.”
Ryan Longwell tied it at 20 with 24 seconds remaining on a 39-yard kick after missing two earlier field goals for the Packers.
“I thought we should have made them all,” Longwell said. “It’s frustrating.”
After the kickoff, Culpepper threw a 14-yard pass to Mewelde Moore and a 12-yard pass to Robinson—who stepped out and stopped the clock with 2 seconds left on the Green Bay 38.
Favre was busy thinking about overtime when he turned to watch Edinger’s winner.
“I was already planning on winning the coin toss,” said Favre, who finished 28-for-36 for 315 yards and two scores.
His teammates were just as shocked.
“I didn’t think he was going to make it,” receiver Donald Driver said. “He made the kick. Nothing I can do about it.”
Though the Packers are playing better than they did in September, they returned to Wisconsin in much worse shape. Carted off with severe injuries were receiver Robert Ferguson (ankle, second quarter) and running back Ahman Green (knee, fourth quarter).
“This is the hand we’re dealt, and these are the cards we have to play with,” said coach Mike Sherman, denying that this was a low point for his team. “If I looked on the field and saw guys who didn’t try or quit, it’d be a low point. But our guys battled.”
As did Minnesota’s guys. With more time to throw in the second half, Culpepper looked as comfortable as he has all season. He passed for 228 yards after halftime, finding Moore for a 14-yard touchdown—the first of his career — with 3:10 left to give the Vikings a 20-17 edge.
So what changed?
“Just our attitude,” Culpepper said. “We settled down and played winning football.”
Instead of individual introductions, the Vikings took the field as a team before the game—perhaps trying to prove they’re still together after everything that’s happened.
Unity doesn’t score points, though, and Minnesota’s once-mighty offense kept finding ways to mess up in the first half. Culpepper was constantly under pressure behind a leaky line that gave up five sacks, two on third down that ended first-quarter possessions.
Green Bay took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter when Driver made a 22-yard catch in the corner of the end zone by cradling the ball against his right elbow. The Vikings then drove to the Packers 35, where Culpepper fumbled the snap on fourth-and-1.
Driver broke four tackles on a 40-yard catch and run that set up a 4-yard TD toss from Favre to Antonio Chatman late in the second quarter that made it 14-0.
Koren Robinson returned the subsequent kickoff 72 yards, but Moore lost a fumble on the next play.
Jan Stenerud’s 54-yarder in 1984 was the previous long field goal for Minnesota. … Driver had eight receptions for 114 yards. … Tight end Jermaine Wiggins had six catches for 56 yards, reaching 100 receptions in his 20th game for the Vikings—the fastest to that mark in team history.